Chapter 2 ("The Literary Tradesman") Part 2, of the author's Pegasus in Harness: Victorian Publishing and W. M. Thackeray, which University Press of Virginia published in 1992. It has been included in the Victorian Web with the kind permission of the author, who of course retains copyright.
[Decorated initial by W. M. Thackeray for Vanity Fair]Authors — W. M. Thackeray]
t cannot be said that Thackeray deliberately set about to build a propertyAuthors — W. M. Thackeray]. He knew full well in July 1837, as the last number of the Constitutional was being printed, that his property was in the inkwell. But life came at him too fast and furiously for him to think beyond the present. For the next ten years Thackeray encountered one disaster after another, justifying his recollection years later of "the wife crazy and the publisher refusing me 15£ who owes me £13.10 and the Times to which I apply for a little more than 5 guineas for a week's work, refusing to give me more" (Letters 4: 271). But with the publication and growing success of Vanity Fair in 1847-48, Thackeray awoke to discover that he had a property, one he had been building all along.
From the failure of the Constitutional in July 1837 to the start of Vanity Fair in January 1947, Thackeray was a journalist, writing for his life at a job - one hesitates to call it either a trade or profession - that he spoke of as "odious magazine-work wh. wd. kill any writer in 6 years" (Letters 1: 459). During that period he contributed nearly 450 pieces of original work to at least twenty-two different magazines, newspapers, or other periodicals. The major vehicles of his magazinery were Fraser's Magazine, [36/37]Authors — W. M. Thackeray]the Times, New Monthly Magazine, Foreign Quarterly Review, Morning Chronicle, and Punch. From these Thackeray expected and got regular work for at least several months together. Fraser's was his first regular means of support, and Punch sustained him and launched Vanity Fair, which bore as the imprint on the monthly wrappers not Bradbury and Evans, the staid publisher and printer, but "Published at the Punch Office."
The incredible number of Thackeray's contributions to periodicals during those ten years and especially the fact that so much of his work appears in six apparently friendly magazines may mask the desperate difficulties and repeated rebuffs he endured from publishers in the early years. There are a number of letters in 1837, for example, from Thackeray to John Mitchell Kemble, his friend from Cambridge days and at the time editor of the British and Foreign Review, asking for work and proposing articles and reviews, but after two acceptances Kemble apparently decided against any more of Thackeray's "light" articles and, in spite of Thackeray's pleas for more work, evinced enough coolness toward his college friend that Thackeray gave up on account of Kemble's "airs." [de Groot / Houghton, 3: 68; Letters 1: 420]. In February 1841, having recently concluded that his wife's mental condition demanded professional care, he wrote from France a plaintive letter to Jane Carlyle asking her to forward three letters for him, one to the Times, one to James Fraser, editor of Fraser's Magazine, and a third to an unknown correspondent, possibly Richard Bentley, whom Thackeray mentioned in his cover letter. He further asked her to intercede with the Times and with John Forster to help promote the sale of Comic Tales by writing good reviews. The letter reveals a man desperate for cash though he asked only for help in getting his work published and sold. A month later on 20 March, he wrote Mrs. Carlyle again, this time in a slightly more relaxed tone, thanking her for the success of her intervention with Fraser (with whom Thackeray had had "a slight coolness") and remarking that Fraser and Bentley had "stuff enough to keep my dear little woman where she is for 3 months to come." Although Fraser published Thackeray's work, Thackeray had to write Bentley on the first of June to turn his manuscript of The History of Samuel Titmarsh over to another publisher, Hugh Cunningham [Harden, Carlyles, pp. 168-70; Ray, Adversity, p. 478]. And there is no record of an acceptance from the Times in that year. [37/38]Authors — W. M. Thackeray]
Magazine work was, of course, more odious some times than others, and Thackeray's relatively stable staff status with Fraser's, Authors — W. M. Thackeray]the Morning Chronicle, Authors — W. M. Thackeray]and Punch provided him with income he did not readily give up when he became a top book author. His magazinery, moreover, included apprentice fiction that one day would earn him both more money and more reputation than the struggling author at first thought. During the ten years preceding Vanity Fair, Authors — W. M. Thackeray]he wrote as serials The Yellowplush Papers for Fraser's (November 1837 - August 1838), Major Gahagan for New Monthly (November 1838 - February 1839), Catherine for Fraser's (May 1839 - February 1840), A Shabby Genteel Story Authors — W. M. Thackeray]for Fraser's (June - October 1840), The History of Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond for Fraser's (September - December 1841), "Miss Tickletoby's Lectures" for Punch (July - October 1842), "Fitzboodle's Confessions" for Punch (October 1842 - November 1843), and The Luck of Barry Lyndon for Fraser's (January - December 1844). All these, of course, were paid at odious magazine rates, about ten to twelve guineas a sheet (sixteen printed pages). Though he had little success, throughout these years his aim was to produce books, from which, as he said rather too optimistically in 1840, he could "get 300£ for my 3 months work instead of 120 wh. the Magazines wd. pay" (Letters 1: 459).
de Groot, H. B. / Houghton, Walter. "The British and Foreign Review; or, European Quarterly Journal, 1835-1844: Introduction" Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, ed. Walter Houghton / Esther Rhoads Houghton. 5 vols. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1966-89, 3: 62-76.
Fraser, Sir William. Hic et Ubique. 1893, except rpt. Thackeray Interviews and Recollections, ed. Philipp Collins. London: Macmillan, 1983.
Gordan, John. William Makepeace Thackeray: An Exhibition. New York: New York Public Library, 1947.
Gulliver, Harold Strong. Thackeray's Literary Apprenticeship. Valdosta, Ga.: priv. Ptd., 1936.
Harden, Edgar. "Thackeray and the Carlyles: Seven Further Letters" Studies in Scottish Literature 14 (1979), 168-70
Huxley, Leonard. The House of Smith, Elder. London: priv. ptd. 1923.
Monsarrat, Anne. An Uneasy Victorian: Thackeray the Man. London: Casell, 1980.
Patten, Robert. Charles Dickens and His Publishers. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978.
Peters, Catherine. Thackeray's Universe. London: Faber & Faber, 1987.
The Letters and Private Papers of William Makepeace Thackeray, ed. Gordon N. Ray. 4 vols. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1946.
Ray, Gordon. Thackeray: The Age of Wisdom. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958.
-----, Thackeray: The Uses of Adversity. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955.
Spielman, M. H. Hithero Unidentified Contributions of W. M. Thackeray to Punch. 1900; rpt. New York: Haskell House, 1971.
Van Duzer, Henry S. A Thackeray Library. 1919; rpt. New York: Kennikat Press, 1965.
Wilson, James Grant. Thackeray in the United State, 1852-3, 1855-6. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder, 1904.
Last modified: 9 April 2001